The New York Times : The commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps was killed early Friday in a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport that was authorized by President Trump, American officials said.
The commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and several officials from Iraqi militias backed by Tehran were killed when an American MQ-9 Reaper drone fired missiles into a convoy that was leaving the airport.
The killing of General Suleimani was a staggering blow for Iran’s military and national pride, and was a serious escalation of Mr. Trump’s growing confrontation with Tehran, one that began with the death of an American contractor in Iraq in late December.
Regional analysts said Iran’s leaders were likely to treat General Suleimani’s killing as an act of war. United States officials were braced for potential Iranian retaliatory attacks, possibly including cyberattacks and terrorism, on American interests and allies.
United States officials consider General Suleimani responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers during the Iraq war, when he provided Iraqi insurgents with advanced bomb-making equipment and training. They also say he has masterminded destabilizing Iranian activities that continue throughout the Middle East and are aimed at the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“General Suleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “General Suleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”
It did not elaborate on the specific intelligence to led them to carry out General Suleimani’s killing. The highly classified mission was set in motion after the American contractor’s death on Dec. 27 during a rocket attack by an Iranian-backed militia, a senior American official said.
While many Republicans said that the president had been justified in the attack, Mr. Trump’s most significant use of military force to date, critics of his Iran policy called the strike a reckless unilateral escalation that could have drastic and unforeseen consequences that could ripple violently throughout the Middle East.
In killing General Suleimani, President Trump took an action that previous presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had rejected, fearing it could end in catastrophe, destabilizing the region further and perhaps leading to all out war between the United States and Iran.
“Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question,” Representative Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, wrote on Twitter, using an alternate spelling of the Iranian’s name. “The question is this – as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”
Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, called the killing of Mr. Suleimani an act of “international terrorism” and warned it was “extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation.”
“The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism,” Mr. Zarif tweeted.
Speaking to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday night, hours after an assault on the American Embassy in Baghdad that United States officials said was orchestrated by Iran, Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly vowed to end American entanglements in the Middle East, insisted that he did not want war.
“I don’t think that would be a good idea for Iran. It wouldn’t last very long,” Mr. Trump said. “Do I want to? No. I want to have peace. I like peace.”
The strikes followed a warning on Thursday afternoon from Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, who said the United States military would pre-emptively strike Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria if there were signs the paramilitary groups were planning more attacks against American bases and personnel in the region.
“If we get word of attacks, we will take pre-emptive action as well to protect American forces, protect American lives,” Mr. Esper said. “The game has changed.”
“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” the Pentagon statement added. “The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.”
In Iran, state television interrupted its programing to announce General Suleimani’s death.
The news anchor recited the Islamic prayer for the dead — “From God we came and to God we return” — beside a picture of General Suleimani.
Hawkish Trump administration allies cheered the strike. “This is devastating for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the regime and Khamenei’s regional ambitions,” said Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, referring to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“For 23 years, he has been the equivalent of the J.S.O.C. commander, the C.I.A. director and Iran’s real foreign minister,” Mr. Dubowitz said, using an acronym for the United States Joint Special Operations Command. “He is irreplaceable and indispensable” to Iran’s military establishment.
For those same reasons, other regional analysts warned, Iran is likely to respond with a intensity of dangerous proportions.
General Suleimani was long a figure of intense interest to people in and out of Iran.
He was not only in charge of Iranian intelligence gathering and covert military operations, he was regarded as one of Iran’s most cunning and autonomous military figures. He was also believed to be very close to the country’s supreme leader, Mr. Khamenei, and was seen as a potential future leader of Iran.
The United States and Iran have long been involved in a shadow war in battlegrounds across the Middle East — from Iraq to Yemen to Syria. The tactics have generally involved using proxies to carry out the fighting, providing a buffer from a direct confrontation between Washington and Tehran that could draw America into yet other ground conflict with no discernible endgame.
The potential for a regional conflagration was a basis of the Obama administration’s push for a 2015 agreement that froze Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
Mr. Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, saying that Mr. Obama’s agreement had emboldened Iran, giving it economic breathing room to plow hundreds of millions of dollars into a campaign of violence around the region. Mr. Trump responded with a campaign of “maximum pressure” that began with punishing new economic sanctions, which began a new era of brinkmanship and uncertainly, with neither side knowing just how far the other was willing to escalate violence and risk a wider war. In recent days it has spilled into the military arena.
The killing of General Suleimani is also likely to further strain a coalition that the Trump administration had tried to build to blunt Iranian aggression. The coalition, made up primarily of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, in recent months has begun to fracture amid concerns among the Arab nations that rising tensions might lead to more direct attacks on the Arab nations.
His presence in Iraq would not have been surprising.
General Suleimani led the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, a special forces unit responsible for Iranian operations outside Iran’s borders. He once described himself to a senior Iraqi intelligence official as the “sole authority for Iranian actions in Iraq,” the official later told American officials in Baghdad.
In his speech denouncing Mr. Trump, he was even less discreet — and openly mocking.
“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine,” he said. “We are ready. We are the man of this arena.”
The New York Times 6 hrs ago By Falih Hassan, Alissa J. Rubin, Michael Crowley and Eric Schmitt Video by Reuters WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps was killed early Friday in a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport that was authorized by President Trump, American officials said.
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